If only I’d known…

Attention New Teachers:

I remember being a new teacher, 8 years ago?!?! In fact, there are still days when the newness is there, especially as I transitioned to my current position last year. It kind of was like starting over again. Luckily, I had a super great mentor who helped me both during student teaching and my first year (and still does, though we’re not close geographically anymore). She has taught me tons, and without her this list may be a lot longer! There are definitely things you don’t learn in college. I don’t know if it’s necessarily that no one tries to teach these things…some things you just have to learn on the job and aren’t ready to listen to until you experience it.


I wish someone had told me…


  • I would have days where I seriously doubted my profession (and ability to teach). There were times that hit me like a brick (and days that it still creeps up on me). I really hadn’t suffered much failure up through college. Perhaps that means I didn’t take enough risks, or didn’t step out of my comfort zone. I generally stuck with things I was good at. When I had a bad day where it was clear students were not learning from me, it cut deep. It still does. There were tears, there were frustrations, and there were naps (I enjoy sleeping things off…it usually makes me feel better). Oh, and there was ice cream because ice cream has a way of making the world right again! I’m not going to lie, there are still times that I need those tears, the sleep, or the ice cream. Fortunately, those days are fewer and farther between. When this happens, sometimes I just question my placement and start looking at job banks to see what else is out there! In the end, though, I know that I am doing what I was created to do. Maybe it’s not my forever purpose, but it is my purpose right now.


  • It’s okay to take things personally, just don’t let it own you. Now, some of you may be shaking your head and saying NEVER to take what students say or do to heart. I.just.can’t.do.that. It is against every fiber of my being. And, I don’t think that’s ALWAYS a bad thing. There are definitely times I have had to let comments slide off of my back…names I’ve been called, things students have said when they’re having a rough day (and it’s obvious I’m not the real issue). But, there is also worth in their feedback, however positive or negative it may be. We’re there for the students. It’s important to be able to reach them to teach them. If they are having a problem with something, I need to hear that, take it to heart and try a new strategy. Sometimes that’s just a matter of taking what I did and putting it in a new package.


  • I wouldn’t always be stuck in the low level math classes. I don’t know about the rest of you all…but around here it seems like often times new teachers get the pleasure of teaching the lower level classes. That was the case with me. I had 3 sections of Algebra I and 2 sections of “Applied Math I” my first year. Algebra I has stuck with me pretty much my entire teaching career (so you’d think I’d be good at it, right? I still haven’t determined that 🙂 ).  Those Applied Math classes really tested me my first year. I don’t know if admins do it to put you through trial by fire, or if as you climb the seniority ladder most places give you more preference (not the case, necessarily at my other two schools), but wow…did it ever challenge me and test me. I now know that it isn’t the case everywhere that you get the higher level classes as you move up in seniority. In fact, I know of people who have walked into upper level classes in their first and second years of teaching. For some reason, though, I kind of love that group of students. They are TOUGH to teach. They generally HATE math. But I think that’s a bit of my niche…to work with those students. They have a soft spot in my heart, as much as I hate to admit it sometimes.


  • Keep a warm fuzzy file. Well, someone did tell me to do that…my wonderful mentor mentioned above made me one. I still have it. What is a warm fuzzy file? All of those sweet things students do for you. Pictures they’ve colored me, signs they’ve made me, notes they’ve left me, etc. It sits in my drawer and when I’m having a rough day, I get it out and look through it. There are still things from my first year of teaching that make me cheese! The file isn’t huge, but there’s probably at least one thing per year that is in there and allows me to reflect on why it’s all worth it in the end.


  • It’s okay (and probably good) to borrow and steal. I don’t think it’s been until the last few years that I have become pretty good at hunting out other people’s ideas and modifying them to fit my classroom. It’s not always about being creative, but about using resources that are out there. I hope to become a better contributor to the open sharing of creative lessons as I continue on this blog journey. But so far, I have been a much better treasure hunter than creator. I have found so much worth in going outside of my textbook. When I started teaching, I was definitely driven by the book and rarely went outside of it. That has changed, and this year, my students have yet to receive a textbook from me (we’re in our second full week now), and may not (shhh…don’t tell…not sure if that’s frowned upon?).


So, new teachers, good luck! While the first year can be trying…it’s all worth it in the end! Stick it out; find someone you can talk to/vent with; and stay focused on why you are doing this crazy job in the first place. You will see rewards for it…maybe small and infrequent…but keep your eyes open, they’re there!


#hssunfun: Organization

I literally LOL’d when I read the tweet that announced this weeks #hssunfun topic. I was pretty much picturing my husband’s reaction if I were to tell him I was going to blog about being organized! Let’s just say that the teacher I share a room with is VERY tidy. Her desk is basically empty at the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, and pretty much all day in between. Then there’s my desk…well…let’s just say I could be that annoying messy roommate! It’s not that things are a disaster, or gross. It’s just I’m a pile-er. I would love to blame it on the fact that I am coming and going all day long. I set down what I am finished with and grab what I need for the next few classes. There isn’t much time to get things put away. I think that I am a “visual” person. I need to see what I have to work with. When I am planning lessons, I need to be able to see my resources. If everything is tucked away too nicely, then I have a hard time remembering the things can work with.

I *just* had a conversation with another teacher (a science teacher whose room I get to teach in 1 period a day) about organization. He’s a pile-er too! But…we decided we’re okay because we don’t lose things and we can find things when we need to.

Here are some of my organizational tools I am currently using:


The folders are color coded. I have two for each class period. One is for materials for that day and one is for collected work/hw/things to grade. I have had these for a few years, but this year I am finding them very effective. I am able to get them ready in the morning, and then I grab the folders I need for a few hours before I can get back to my room (remember…I am not in any one classroom for two class periods in a row!). We are only a week into school, but so far the system is working well!

The other picture is my post-it note lesson plan book. I found it on Pinterest.  Some think I have way too much time on my hands. However, I like that I can move post-its around; its size is perfect for me, and I can re-use post-its next year if I want. Again, we’re only one week in, but thus far it is working well for me!

Beyond that…I use post-its and to-do lists like it’s my job! Again, if I SEE what I need to do, then I do it. I currently have one from the Target Dollar section that lists the days of the week with room for a checklist on each day. It has definitely helped me to not lose my mind in the chaos of the start of the year! I would post a picture, but I forgot to take one and it is at school. I love it!

I also am working on using binders to organize meeting notes, PBIS “stuff”, and my attendance/grade checklists/etc. They aren’t quite up and running, but a work in progress.

So, how do YOU stay organized? Are you a neat and tidy organized person, or more loosely (possibly considered messy) organized person?

Also, sorry for the less than stellar photo quality…and their location in the post. I am still new at this :).

This year…

This year, there are a few things I will be doing differently.

1) The other teacher teaching Algebra I (she teaches HS and I teach the 8th grade section) and I decided to rearrange our Alg I curriculum. While I have taught Algebra every year since I began teaching, it will be a challenge (and interesting) to change the order of things. We are using a Common Core edition of our textbook to lead the changes we make. I will also be trying to push my 8th graders more than I did last year. This means faster, more challenging, hopefully making them more independent and not afraid to go for it!

2) I am having students write down daily objectives, mark whether they understand after the lesson, and explain or give an example that illustrates the objective(s). Thanks Pinterest for this…it’s based off of a first grade teacher’s idea via her blog. This will not only help me stay on task, but it will help them see what we covered in any given week. They will fill this out Monday through Thursday, have it to study from for their quiz Friday, and we can go over issues Friday (before quiz).

3) I am making a much bigger effort to have Warm-Ups every day. One of my classes is for Juniors, and part of my job is prepping them for the upcoming PSAE (IL’s state assessment).  Again, I made a weekly form and am hopeful that that will keep people more accountable to their work. Today’s question, for example, was an ACT question. I will also incorporate skills we have learned recently, or review a skill that is necessary for that day’s work.

4) Less in class homework time, but more in class practice (structured). Our class periods are 43 minutes, so by the time they write objectives and do a warm-up, we’re down to about 38 minutes. This doesn’t leave much “let’s get started on the assignment” time. I have worked really hard this week to include in class practice so that HW can be shorter, and we don’t need to start it during class.

There you have it…a few old ideas that I am trying to do a better job of implementing.

PS…any suggestions on how to best utilize 43 minute class periods?? (Forgot to mention I’m a traveling teacher…so I am never in the same classroom back to back, and passing periods are 3 minutes!) Help wanted/needed!!

#hssunfun: Homework



Ah…this is a tough one. I have thought and thought and thought about homework, everything our prompt for the week mentions: how much to assign, when to collect, how to grade, etc. 


In the past I have assigned homework on a very regular basis for most of my classes. Homework sets range in size, but I intentionally pick a variety of problems that allow students to practice all of the skills covered in class. I don’t have them do 10 of each type, but usually pick 2-3 problems per skill addressed in the lesson. I then add on the oh-so-loved by students word problems, some review questions and sometimes some review skills that will be utilized in the coming lesson. 


As for grading, I almost always tell my students I will grade one of the following ways: completion (they LOVE this, of course), graded for correctness (but on a “loose” scale, maybe 85%-100% correct will give them a 10/10, it varies depending on the lesson and number of problems), or spot-checked (I choose 5-10 problems and grade for correctness). I KNOW that it would save me SO much time to just check from completeness, but I.just.can’t….I don’t know if it’s because I greatly fear they will just write down the problem, or maybe because I know in other classes they just fill in random junk, but it is a struggle for me to strongly consider this option. 


However, I am going for it this year. Completion grades (why does that almost make me nauseous to say??), here we go. This is why: time…it’s really hard to grade all of their papers (even with small classes) and get them back promptly; efficiency…I think it would be way better to allow them to check their own work, and if we do a completion grade I will do this most of the time; responsibility…I am going to do homework checks along with this. Homework checks will be held once every one to two weeks. I will give them a sheet to copy down their work and solutions for certain homework problems. No work shown = no credit. This should hopefully hold them accountable. 


My biggest issue, especially with certain classes, is homework completion. I have tried to give more time in class to work, but there is a fairly large group of students who still won’t complete it. That is really hard in 43 minutes, too. I am hoping that checking for completion on a daily basis + having homework checks will give them time to get help if they need it, and at least attempt problems they may not normally attempt. 


I have read about people who don’t give homework, or just give 5 problems, but I am not there yet (as appealing as it sounds!). I haven’t figured out a structure to make this work. My students wouldn’t have enough time to practice skills, or really spend time problem solving if I went that route. Maybe sometime in the nearish future I can figure out a way to make it work!

So, what do you all do about homework? Can’t wait to read all about it :). 


#hssunfun: First Day Activities

I am a day late on this…BUT…we lost our internet connection at our house yesterday. Life without internet stinks! Also, we live in the country, and our cell signals aren’t strong enough to pull much data in. I could check Twitter (sometimes), but no FB, no productive searching online…it was a rough day to have the weekend before school begins! Anyway…

Our first Teacher Institute Day is *this* Wednesday! Eek!! Despite the fact that I have spent between 3 and 8 hours in my classroom every weekday since Aug 1, I still feel slightly unprepared for this week! Perhaps it’s the fact that I am a part of our PBIS team and we plan an Opening Day Event for our students, so time spent isn’t just for me and my classes! Either way…the week goes like this: Wednesday-food, meeting, meeting, meeting, food, meeting, meeting, tiny bit of time to work in our classrooms; Thursday-Opening Day 2012 (a morning where students are taught expected school wide behaviors, student dismissal at 11:30, food, meeting?, time in our classrooms?; Friday-full “normal” day with students. So, I get to meet my new classes Friday. We will have them for a full period that day, which is a measly 43 minutes (anyone else have SHORT class periods??). 


My schedule this year is as follows:

Advisory-Seniors! Loved my Senior Advisory last year, trying to not to have preconceived expectations/standards for the new group

1st period-Prep (might love and hate this…I am an early-to-school-person, so this will give me a TON of time to get mentally prepped for the day and play catch-up, also shared planning time with my co-teacher for STEM class)

2nd period-Math Strategies (10th grade), an RTI class that is computer based with individualized help as well

3rd period-PBIS Coordinator

4th period-Advanced Math Concepts (building on Algebra and Geometry concepts learned as 9th/10th graders)

5th period-8th grade Algebra I (our accelerated students)

6th period-supervising a credit recovery class (APEX), several students working on a variety of on-line curriculum in different content areas

7th period-Advanced Math Concepts

8th period-STEM (Enrichment class for top 8th graders, new class, using a curriculum based around one topic for the semester and integrates Math, Science, Engineering, Technology…will co-teach w/ science teacher)


Below are some of the things I plan on doing. I run things through my mind several times before I commit on paper, or in general, to what I am doing. I haven’t committed yet…probably need to work on that! I know Friday will be here before I know it. None of them are solely my idea, some are completely like the original source and some I have changed to fit what I want to do.  


Seating Arrangement Activity (Alg I due to size/what I experienced last year), from an edweek article linked on @sandramiller_tx’s blog. 

An Introduction to who I am via Prezi

I will give each student a Post-It as they walk in. They will be directed to fill in the sentence: “Math is _____________. I will, of course, censor them in case anything is inappropriate, but then make a Tag Cloud for each class, or for the entirety of my classes using wordle.net or tagxedo.com. I got this idea from someone’s survey…though right now I can’t find where that was! I also can’t remember if the tag cloud idea was the same person’s, a different person’s or my own! Anyway, shout out/thanks to whoever prompted this! I think it could turn out to be pretty neat. 

Silent Interviews: This looked like a great way for students to share with each other, even if they know each other well. We can not only learn about each other, but also have a discussion on communication (nonverbal and verbal). 

Snowball Fight (probably only Alg I): This will allow us to have some fun, but also set boundaries about how to have fun. I am usually pretty good about discussing expectations for crazy activities before we begin. 

Who I Am survey from Dan Meyer. I found this before last year, and liked that it gave students space to be as creative, or uncreative as they liked. I may fill out my own and include it in my Prezi. I may make a couple of modifications to the categories. I like to get out my colored pencils, markers and crayons for this and tell my students that it is “Arts and Crafts” time!

Hand out course syllabus (expectations, procedures, grading policy, materials, contact info for parents)

Like I said, I won’t use ALL of these in ALL of my classes. I will have to pick and choose this week, and decide what will be best for each class I have. My homework to them is to finish their Who I Am sheet, get their syllabus signed (we’ll go over parts of it as time allows Friday, but finish Monday), and get their binder ready for next week (I will most likely do their first binder check Wednesday to see if they have it and have it set up as I set out in the syllabus).

There you have it: my first day activities! 

Here goes nothing…

After much contemplation and much time spent lurking on other blogs, I have decided to be a contributor! I have tried blogging about our personal life, and just never stuck with it. Maybe it was the lack of direction…too many topics to choose from…maybe it was the lack of time…maybe it was not feeling like I had expertise in any one area…I don’t know. But, I am hoping having a focus and a passion will help me to be a (bigger) contributor in the professional world. I follow several math educators in my Google Reader; I happened upon the #TMC12 folks on Twitter…and am super encouraged by the network of MS/HS teachers they seem to be creating/organizing. I don’t know who gets credit for all of that, but I am super grateful to have happened into it!

About me…I am starting my 8th year of teaching. I am in my 3rd school, having spent 1 year teaching Alg I and Applied Math I at my first school and then getting RIF’d; 5 years teaching a combo of the following: Alg I, Core Plus Math: Course 1, Algebra Foundations (an RTI class), Statistics, Jr Seminar (test prep for Illinois’ PSAE) at my second school; and starting my second year teaching 8th Grade Alg I (advanced students), Advanced Math Concepts (Alg/Geom mix for 11th/12th graders…lower level), Math Strategies (RTI class), and co-teaching a STEM class with a Science Teacher for the top of the 8th grade class (we’re using a unit of the iMaST curriculum) at my third school. In addition to my math teaching, I am the PBIS coordinator for our High School. That may bleed into my blogging every once in awhile, but I will most likely try to keep it focused on teaching math! Each of the three schools I have taught in have had less than 450 students.

I am excited to become a part of a greater network of teachers…to encourage others who are like me (and not like me)…and to be encouraged by others. Here goes nothing…